Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sometimes Ribbons Just Aren't Important

My horse, Tristan, gives me reasons to be proud of him every day. When I bought the 15.3 Connemara/Trakehner cross six year ago, I had absolutely no idea how lucky I was. He came to me fairly green but at the time I was afraid of jumping higher than small cross rails, so we were a perfect fit. I knew immediately that I had found a horse hell-bent on taking care of me and keeping me as safe as he could. To this day he has never once deliberately hurt me or tried to make me fall off. He’s my best four-legged friend and I couldn’t ask for a more perfect partner.

This weekend we showed at the Windridge Farm Horse Trials at Training level.  Windridge is a lovely little property with beautiful rolling hills, lush grass, and friendly people. The afternoon before the show started, I took Tristan on a nice hack around the property so he would be comfortable in the warm up the next day.

Saturday Morning – Arrival at Show Grounds 6:00 a.m.

My mom, my boyfriend Nathan, our dog Lego, and I woke up at 5:00 a.m. in order to get Tristan spic and span before my 8:19 a.m. Dressage time. Before I even get in the saddle for an event, my horse needs to be fed, have his stall cleaned, go for a walk or hand graze to stretch his legs, and cleaned of any manure stains acquired throughout the night. Luckily, with Tristan being buckskin, his coat doesn’t stain very easily so with some minor scrubbing we were all tidied up for Dressage. In the warm up my coach, Eric Dierks, had us focus on our connection and throughness before heading off for our test. 

The actual Dressage test tends to be somewhat difficult for Tristan and me if we end up succumbing to tenseness and nerves, however, this test went rather smoothly .Tristan’s trot work felt wonderful and fluid, and even though he became stiff through the transitions, the stiffness did not carry on through the rest of our test. To top it off, after my salute at the end of the test our judge actually leaned out her car window to tell us, “Very lovely horse!” Our score came back as a 35.9 and started us in seventh place!

Next phase was Stadium Jumping.  Most of the shows I have attended have run stadium in a sand ring, but Windridge had theirs on a grass field. The difficulty aspect of this course was definitely the rolling hills throughout the course. To tackle this problem, Eric advised his students to angle most of the single vertical fences so they would ride slightly downhill making the horse’s jobs easier. The warm up area was slightly difficult to navigate with all the practice fences going uphill. We made sure to have a shorter warm up in order to keep Tristan from getting tired before his course. 

Finally, our time came to enter the ring. We circled waiting for the buzzer to sound and then headed on to our first fence. The first two fences rode textbook perfect. Next we had a left-hand turn to an oxer at fence three, but on the way there I got confused and thought I was going the wrong direction. I quickly turned right (the wrong way) only to realize just as promptly that I had originally been going in the correct direction. A quick obscenity from me and off we turned to the third jump. Tristan sailed easily over the rest of the course, making all the jumps feel very small and insignificant. At times we were almost jumping 2 feet higher than the actual fences! Tristan had such lovely balance and demeanor throughout the course that I was beaming by the time the course was over. I was so proud of my man that even though I was disappointed at my own pilot error, I was very pleased with the ride.

One of the most important things when I show my horse is making sure that I use equipment that keeps Tristan comfortable and as willing to do his job as he had just shown me. That is why I love using Moxie Equestrian’s Bamboo Saddle Pads, especially while jumping. Part of the reason why Tristan was able to jump so impressively was that his back was comfortable and dry, thanks to the wicking properties of Moxie’s Bamboo fabric. After I took Tristan back to his stall and untacked him, I was very pleased to feel the outside of the pad was sweatier than the inside! It makes me feel good to know that I am using a saddle pad that keeps my horse comfortable and happy about his job.

After our Stadium round, we had racked up another 4 penalty points for my mistake, leaving us with a score of 39.9 but actually moving us up to sixth place. The rest of the day was spent hand-grazing Tristan (after stuffing his face with many congratulatory carrots and apples), and watching other stadium rounds. A very good Saturday indeed!

Sunday Morning – Arrival at Show Grounds 6:00 a.m.

Cross Country day dawned breezy and cool, virtually perfect conditions for galloping. All of Tristan’s legs were tight and cool after the previous day of showing, meaning he was perfectly fit for the last phase of the event.  I made sure to fit studs to his shoes to help him navigate the rolling hills and turning parts of the course. Tristan warmed up very nicely, with a perfect slight edge of hotness and spunk that gives him a couple extra miles per hour on course.

We had our final countdown in the start box and off we went. The first couple fences flew by easily and we really got to take in the beauty and fun of galloping across the open field. One of the best features  of Windridge is the course wraps around a pretty pond, really making the course feel very scenic and fun. At fence seven we had our first multiple jump question, a two-stride between two angled coops. We took a quick moment to balance in the gallop before Tristan easily covered the distance. From there we had a very friendly palisade wall with brush on top that we sailed over with room to spare. After that was number nine, the coffin combination of log-ditch-log. In setting Tristan up for a shorter stride into the combination, I accidentally took him too far back and caused him to question what we were doing leading us to a stop at the first element of the coffin. After a quick circle and a pop on the butt with my crop, Tristan realized there were no scary monsters hiding in the ditch and easily leaped over the rest of the jumps.

The next couple fences breezed by and lead us to number eleven, a drop bank, one of my biggest fears on course. I brought Tristan down to a trot to better maneuver the obstacle and he popped down it effortlessly leading to big smiles and “Good boy!” from me. A year ago and that fence would have been a big problem for us, but through practice and great training we have conquered our fear and had major leaps (literally!) in improvements. I’m very proud of my horse!

After the bank, the next big question was the water complex. The course designers were nice enough to not ask Training riders to drop into the water (my absolute biggest anxiety) but instead gave us a friendly roll top jump before the water, to a nice bank upwards and easy roll top after the water. It rode beautifully with Tristan covering the striding easily and really gave us heaps of confidence to finish the course.

Tristan finished the course with the same rock ‘n’ roll attitude he started out with. I could not have been happier with our round. Unfortunately the one stop we had added twenty penalty points to our score and dropped us down to ninth place. However, sometimes the score just doesn’t matter as much as bringing your horse and yourself home safely after a very fun weekend. After our cross country round, Tristan caught his breath very quickly and felt as if he could have jumped another course! The true satisfaction I get after these events is the knowledge that my horse really enjoys his job and awaits the next fence with ears pricked!

Lucky Tristan is now on a short vacation until next week; after that we strive on to prepare for the next events in June. We will work on improving our transitions in Dressage, remembering my course in Stadium Jumping, and keeping a forward momentum over all fences in Cross Country. Who knows, we may be looking at moving up to Preliminary level by the end of this season or the beginning of the next season. Stay tuned!